“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”
– G. K. Chesterton
We can’t stress enough that our pilgrimages are not for “tourists,” who have an itinerary of sights they visit and photograph and leave. Our pilgrimages are journeys of faith which incorporate unique, unscripted opportunities for encounter with unforgettable people of faith, whether we are in Thomas More’s cell in the Tower of London, or the childhood home of Pope Emeritus Benedict in Bavaria, or the backyard garden of a new friend we have met in Ukraine. Even the small hotel owners who hug our pilgrims goodbye become a part of the fabric of our pilgrimage experience.
One priceless example of “encounter”: on one of our trips, the cardinal who is in charge of the basilica St. Paul’s Outside-the-Wall, a personal friend, accepted our spur-of-the-moment invitation to have coffee with our group and accompanied us as we walked through the basilica, pointing out fascinating features of the architecture and symbolism and relating little-known stories of its history. Due to Dr. Robert Moynihan’s 25 years of work in and around the Vatican and the Universal Church, his exclusive connections and friendships, such spontaneous, unrepeatable encounters are not rare.
Christian living means dying with Christ and rising again with Him. That is part of the meaning of baptism, the starting point of the Christian pilgrimage.
Our eight or nine days together become a type of mirror of our entire life’s journey of faith. The pilgrimage takes on the characteristics of a retreat, of a seminar, almost of a liturgy, drawing us into our own depths and in so doing, drawing us closer to God. There is an ebb and flow on a pilgrimage, moments of movement and moments of stillness; moments of exteriority and moments of interiority; moments of waiting outside a basilica, and moments of standing in the presence of the greatest saints of our tradition. And this ebb and flow can bring us finally to an interior metanoia, a change in how we view our lives, our faith and our relationship with God and with one another.